USC will travel to Provo, Utah to face BYU for the first time since 2004. The Cougars come into this game with a 1-1 record and coming off a huge overtime win over Tennessee. BYU is known to knockoff Power 5 conference teams through the last few years. We speak with Phil Hiatt of BYU’s SB Nation site Vanquish the Foe to learn more about this year’s Cougars team.
1- Coming off an Overtime win at Tennessee. What’s the mood like coming into this Saturday’s game against USC?
It’s definitely positive in Provo. We just went into the home of an SEC team and came away with a huge overtime victory. A win’s a win, so we’re feeling good. The one worry fans have is that the team wasn’t executing all that great until the last 5 minutes and then overtime. Hopefully the team can clean up a lot of those mistakes this week.
2- For those who are unfamiliar, tell us something about this BYU team.
The BYU offense returned most of its starters from last year. The only real question was at running back, but grad-transfer Ty’Son Williams has already proven to be the answer. Zach Wilson is an athletic quarterback who is always a threat to run if he doesn’t like his options downfield. While a lot of people tend to associate BYU with offense, the defense has been the stronger side for the past couple years. Khyiris Tonga is a monster at nose tackle. At 6’4”, 320 lbs, he disrupts the backfield in both the running game and passing game. Corner is the most inexperienced position group on defense. They’re talented, but young, and that will definitely show a couple plays a game.
3- Quarterback Zach Wilson adds another dynamic to BYU’s offense. How much of a factor will he play into The Cougars success against a young and athletic USC defense?
Everything on offense runs through Zach. I mean, obviously, he is the quarterback, but a lot of our offense is zone read so he has to make the right decision on every play. We haven’t seen him perform like he did at the end of last year yet, so there is some worry his off-season shoulder surgery is hampering him more than we thought. But, when healthy, he can make almost all the throws on the field and can always make something happen with his legs. If his decision-making is clicking, he can find holes in the defense to exploit.
4- Who are some key players that USC fans should keep an eye on?
Matt Bushman, the TE, is our biggest threat in the passing game. Tennessee doubled him all night last week, forcing the other receivers to step up, which they thankfully did. Look for Micah Simon to continue to gain trust with Wilson after a career night in receptions and receiving yards. Ty’Son Williams has been a revelation at running back as well. The South Carolina grad-transfer has vaulted himself ahead of the other running backs. He brings a mix of size and speed that makes him a threat every time he carries the ball.
5- What are some key factors to the game?
Whichever offensive line has the better game will probably be the team that wins. BYU will look really good if they have a solid run game and Wilson has time in the pocket. On the flip side, BYU’s defense will usually only rush 3-5 guys. If they can get pressure with the defensive line and keep 6-8 in coverage, that will make it difficult for Slovis to find open receivers.
6- BYU pulls off the upset if?
BYU will win this game if they keep USC’s offense off the field. That means establishing the run game and forcing turnovers. It’s no secret that BYU’s secondary will be riding the struggle bus vs. the Trojans’ receivers. If they’re on the field a lot, BYU will get eaten alive. If BYU can get the running game going early with Ty’Son Williams, they’ll be able to shorten the game and give USC less chances to score. It’s a tall task, but that’s what BYU needs to do.
7- What are your predictions for Saturday’s game?
I watched the second half of the USC-Stanford game last week, and boy was I scared. They are bigger, faster, and stronger than BYU. I think BYU will keep it close the first half, especially with an excited home crowd. I just don’t think they’ll be able to stay with them the whole game, and USC could easily pull away in the fourth quarter.
USC 38 - BYU 24